Professor Ian Cockburn - The John Curtin School of Medical Research (ANU)

Professor Ian Cockburn. Photo: Jamie Kidston/ANU

Beyond the Basics: The Importance of Studying Immunity to Complex Pathogens.


Hosted by: Professor Elizabeth Gardiner



Malaria caused by the Plasmodium parasite kills over 600,000 people each year. A safe an effective vaccine will be an essential tool for malaria eradication. However, infected individuals do not generate sterilising immunity, so we lack a good template for immunization. In this seminar I will discuss how we have used reductionist approaches in mice, coupled with clinical studies to understand how effective B cell and antibody responses can develop against malaria parasites. These discoveries have led to the development of prophylactic antibodies that are now in Phase II clinical trials. I will also show that studying a complex pathogen like Plasmodium can lead to basic discoveries in fundamental immunology. These discoveries can form the basis for understanding other complex immune responses such as those that develop in autoimmunity and cancer.



Professor Ian Cockburn is the Head of Immunology and Infectious Diseases Division at the John Curtin School of Medical Research. Professor Cockburn received his PhD from the University of Edinburgh in which he discovered a new malaria resistance gene among individuals in Papua New Guinea. In 2004 he moved to Johns Hopkins University where his post-doctoral work focused on CD8+ T cells and their ability to kill malaria parasites in the liver. His contributions include the first intravital imaging of pathogen killing in vivo, which paved the way for the identification of tissue resident T cells in the liver as major mediators of protection against malaria. Professor Cockburn established his laboratory at the Australian National University in 2013 where he established a new program of research on B cell responses to malaria. Key achievements have been the biophysical analysis of antibody binding to the circumsporozoite protein, the identification of the factors that regulate memory responses to malaria vaccines, and an understanding of selection processes in the germinal center.